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Last week I was tasked with giving a talk on: “Bravery and a can do attitude” at the Somerset County Council’s Staff Awards. The premise being that with all the cutbacks in central government funding, these are hard times for councils. It is a subject matter that is close to my heart and something that is sadly lacking not just in the public sector, but in a fair number of those in the private sector that serve the public sector and their paymasters in the private sector. We all bemoan the paucity of decent design in the vast majority of the new housing estates that have been built in the past 4 decades or so. How many times do we have to sit in a miserable hospital waiting room or feel deflated at how uninspiring that sheltered housing scheme is where a beloved relation is living out their final years? How many times do we look at some new public landscape and think what a bleedin’ waste of money? Just about all of those crappy buildings, public spaces and interiors will have had significant input from architects and designers all of whom (assuming they have any understanding of good design) have lacked bravery in debating and standing up to a client that doesn’t understand the value of good design and will have lacked a can do attitude in being creative with tight budgets. What is the point of being a designer if all you are doing is earning a wage and you don’t care about the outcome? AtHemingwayDesign we have a firm philosophy that “design is about improving things that matter in life” and it is this mantra that continues to ensure that we are brave and we “can do” and that drives a very healthy bottom line. Gerardine (wife of 32 years and design partner for 34) were brave in moving from our native Lancashire when we were teenagers with no plans other than to see what “that there London” could offer. Without staff, without a factory to make her clothes, Gerardine was extremely brave to take a very large order from Macy’s New York for her first collection that up to then she been sewing herself whilst sat behind her portable sewing machine in her stall in Kensington Market in the early 80s. To grow Red or Dead into a fashion brand with shops all around the world without backing, with a team of young unqualified enthusiastic can doers was a hoot as well as being brave. We have since been fortunate to have been involved in a number of schemes that echo the attributes that enabled us to build our brand and then sell it for such a healthy sum! The first that comes to mind is Bournemouth Councils bravery in commissioning for the run down district of Boscombe, the world’s second only surf reef and employing designers (including HemingwayDesign) to bring back to life the mid-century overstrand and pier. Cries of waste of money went up from the media and the usual suspects. The surf reef was untested technology lo and behold the surf reef failed to generate decent waves, then broke and the New Zealand construction company went bust. But, you know what in the meantime the investment paid off, Boscombe seafront is nothing less than transformed and the coolest and arguably the liveliest bit of beach in the area. The surf reef is about to be fixed as well! From the bravery of Freebridge Housing standing up to the naysayers of Kings Lynn who said that their Hillington Square housing scheme should be demolished (the sustainable reimagining that we have led on is now loved by the town) to the project that we are most proud of, The Staiths South Bankin Gateshead, it is clear that bravery and a can do attitude can turn a sows ear into a silk purse. The early years in the development of the Staiths were full of debate and arguments over “secured by design”, “homezones”, “communal barbeques”, “the table tennis tables in the streets”, “shared pocket parks”, “cycle routes” and “restrictions on car ownership”. We really were questioning accepted practice and Gerardine and I were also being questioned by many architects and planners as to our suitability for the project. “Q. What could a couple of fashion designers know about housing? A. We have bloomin’ well lived in them for 4 decades each and we care about the quality of life!” We didn’t let any of the flak get to us, we proved the police wrong in their belief that we were designing crime “in” rather than designing crime “out” by placing all the parking down gable ends rather than in view of residents houses. We proved the council wrong by getting rid of all wheelie bins and forcing residents to communally dispose of waste (no, the development has not become covered in litter) and no, the local youth haven’t barbecued the neighbour’s cat on the communal barbeques. Our current, most challenging and most exciting project is Dreamland Margate and if there is a braver regeneration project in the UK with so many can do folk involved then please point me in the right direction. From Heritage Lottery, to Thanet Council, to The Dreamland Trust and the Margate community that support it to Sands Heritage Ltd who will run the park everyone is taking risks and going with flow and all for the public good. It is this can do attitude from creative minds that have taken The Mitte District in Berlin, Williamsburg and now wider Brooklyn in New York, Hackney Wick and are transforming the Baltic Quarter in Liverpool and the old town in Margate and making them such hot spots (if these are examples of gentrification then bring gentrification on please). And the councils that have allowed pianos and table tennis tables to populate our public spaces: well I salute you for your bravery and supporting those who say “try this”. – Wayne Hemingway

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The Staiths Southbank Gateshead 5

Today I am a very proud man. I am up in Newcastle – Gateshead to do a talk and also visit our favourite project of our careers The Staiths South Bank housing development. The development is nearly finished, is looking and living wonderfully and today is the opening of the community shop run by two residents on the estate. The café looks great, the food is great and its uplifting to hear how much the community are supporting it. Hopefully now that the riverside Sustrans cycle way is fully open they will get many more casual passers-by as the weather warms up.

The owners of the café put on a great spread at the opening and had as few tasty Panini’s left at the end. Hating to see waste and knowing that breakfast in the hotel I was staying in was £13.50 I decided to take one back to the hotel.

The next morning I ran the 7 miles or so along the Tyne to the historic pedestrian tunnel with a view to getting the Metro back from the other side only to find that it was closed for refurbishment. Rather than fiddle about trying to find another form of public transport I decided to run back. After completing more than a half marathon I was ready for some hot food and not a cold Panini!

I still couldn’t bring myself to spend £13.50 when I had some food in the minibar fridge so I decided to “live the dream”. Having never had the need to use a Corby Trouser Press for their intended use (how many times do your trousers get that creased?) I have always wondered how hot they get, could you cook on one. So leaving the Panini in its brown paper bag I switched the trouser press on and placed the said bagged Panini between the two faces of the press and closed it. Within a few minutes the room was filled with the aroma of pesto and mozzarella and warm ciabatta. It tasted fresh, delicious and was possibly my most satisfying breakfast in living memory.

When I book a hotel from now on I will be checking that they have Corby Trouser Presses.

– Wayne Hemingway

They Dont Make Em Like They Used To    Jan 27 2015

I am not a car nut and almost always choose public transport, a bike or shank’s pony to get around but I have always had a real love of classic cars and through our Classic Car Boot Sale events. I have learnt that just about anyone wandering within eyesight of a line-up of classic car vehicles will dip in their pockets and pay a few quid to get up close and personal. When Gerardine and I got together at the turn of the 80s and shacked up in London, the first of a series of classics was a gorgeous Standard Vanguard.

On our eldest kids 17th birthdays we bought them dirt cheap, but so cool, Datsun 120Y’s.

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As a family we have regularly bemoaned the dearth of decent visual design in modern mass market cars. I often question whether we just don’t have the foresight to see that today’s designs will be classics in the future but there is always that underlying feeling that actually today’s cars are just so damn boring.

Then yesterday I read an article by Norman Foster issue 338 of Blueprint Magazine. He was talking about his new book Havana Autos and Architecture and eulogising about the wonderful old architecture and classic cars that can’t help but catch the eye in Cuba. He talks about despite the lack of money, the love, devotion and time many Cubans put into their 60 year old Chevvies, Oldsmobile’s and Pontiacs and comes up with one telling quote: “It seemed to me that soon everything in Cuba might be like anywhere else in the world . Gone would be the exotic vehicles like dinosaurs from an age long past, to be replaced by the technically superior but characterless cars of today.” – Norman Foster

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So why can’t we have uplifting visual design to match the wonderful reliability and technology that we get with new cars. Does functionality have to quash serendipity? We need the car manufacturing equivalent of Apple (or dare I say it Ikea) to come along and shake up the industry.

Boy how we here at HemingwayDesign would love to work with a big car manufacturer and try to marry their technological skills with beauty. – Wayne Hemingway

Dreamland Homepage Banners Sitewatch

Last year I wrote about Margate in this that was published on the Design Council website

Margate

A seaside town that the press often depicts as a bit of a basket case. I have one word for it: amazing! Margate is truly walking with a swagger these days. People are moving from their one bedroom flats in London to a four bedroom house and opening cafes, gallery shops.

Margate
Photography Nick Morley

Every time I go there I see more young couples doing something interesting with an old building. There is a cultural institution there, The Turner Contemporary that has helped to “gild brand Margate”. Margate is not being given a leg up by city folk like in Whitstable. These are young, often creative, without vast sums of money who are spotting an opportunity that is relatively affordable evocative property, a sandy beach, within reach of London and some likeminded pioneers. My god its exciting there. I look at it as a place full of exciting opportunities. You know that in ten years’ time it won’t be a failed Portas High St – it’ll be a cool town.

Now as the opening of Dreamland Margate fast approaches part of the HemingwayDesign team are spending a decent chunk of every week in Margate and we are seeing, at first hand, the town starting to do what Brighton started to do at pace in the late 60s, 70s and early 80s and start to attract a community that will form the bedrock to a more financially and culturally vibrant town. Like many seaside towns Margate still has its drug and street drinking problems, but there are now many less depressing things to take the eye. As the train times to central Kent towns and London gradually become eroded, as more decent employment opportunities materialise, and as affordability in London becomes increasingly out of reach for many, the wealth of relatively low cost “projects” in terms of properties that need TLC is attracting “pioneers “ on a weekly basis.

Of course there are those who have spotted the opportunity to “invest” in property in Margate, but at least these are not the Far Eastern and Russian “squirrel our money way in a safe haven Buy to Leave Empty property” buyers that are blighting the London housing market. For every person that is spotting an opportunity to get a return on investment, there is someone willing to give Margate a go as a home and a place to work from.

There is positive form of gentrification going on, and bring it on, because the rebirth of Margate, London’s sandy beach is one helluva an uplifting story.

Dreamland when it finally reopens this summer will be another milestone and being part of helping this great British seaside town to rediscover its mojo is a responsibility that we are not taking lightly.

– Wayne Hemingway

Uber App

When I get a new phone the first thing I do is clear the phone of apps like Angry Birds that come preloaded and that I would never use! I do occasionally hear of an app that sounds great but that never gets used (do I really need Stopwatch Pro?) but on the whole other than weather, news, calendar, note taking, maps and public transport timetables my phone gets used for making calls, emailing and taking photos. But one app based service has come along that is exciting in that it is easy to use, speeds up a process and saves money. Everything that mobile technology should do.

My new favourite app is the mini cab booking service Uber. There are times when public transport is a difficult option and I have to resort to a taxi. In London black cab prices have increasingly “upset” my thrifty sensibilities. The once affordable Addison Lee became no longer a cost effective option and mini cab offices are rarely where you want them and often a bit seedy. The simple Uber app based system of hailing a taxi is obvious and engaging (watching all those Uber drivers driving near your location like ants on your phone feels very modern). Uber prices blow the competition out of the water and my experience with speed of arrival is phenomenal. I was in an Uber cab last week and asked the driver how it was working. He said it had revolutionised his life. He was cab driving as part of making his family life work financially. He had been working for a mini cab office 10 hours a day to bring in enough income. By going alone on the Uber system he could earn enough in 6 hours and he got his payment straight into his account without any hassle.

A service that improves the lot of the provider and the user in terms of efficiency and in monetary terms is a design and business holy grail.

But is it too good to be true? Those that are threatened (the likes of the black cab driver and the wealthy Addison Lee) are constantly saying that anyone can be an Uber driver and that there is no control, but I find it hard to see what the difference is between Uber driver screening and what black cab drivers have to go through to become registered drivers. Lobbying against Uber from the competition is getting louder and when I read this last week about Uber being banned in Delhi I started to wonder how long it will be before my re kindled love affair with cost effective late night cabs will last.

– Wayne Hemingway

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Seeing that Shredded Wheat advert on telly that is built around a lifelong follower of what to some of us is the a lifelong music passion, Northern Soul, it made me realise how in today’s mass media world how nothing (unless it’s illegal, devoutly uncommercial or totally crap) remains underground.

Northern Soul was a movement that was limited to a few dozen clubs (mainly in the North West & North Midlands of England) over a period of a decade or so from the turn of the 70s. The Wikipedia page is not a bad starting point I started to go to Wigan Casino in 1974 and Blackpool Mecca a year later. I met my wife Gerardine at Angels in Burnley on the famous Wednesday Soul Night.

It was truly an underground scene, mainly working class teenagers (with more boys than girls attending most soul nights) travelling to the same clubs. You would see the same faces wherever you went. I would guess that there were less than 10,000 people into the scene (ie less than would go and watch Blackburn Rovers on a Saturday!) The only way to find out about the scene was by word of mouth, by subscribing to pretty obscure magazines like Black Echoes and Blue and Soul or by late night shows on local radio stations.

In 2015 this once underground music scene based around tracks recorded by mainly black American artists around 50 years ago is “overground”. In 2014, Elaine Constantine’s labour of love film. Northern Soul was a surprise hit, and there are records selling for tens of thousands of pounds (and pretty average ones at that in my opinion!) and the BBC got in on the act with a great documentary.

I love the fact that the musical movement that I genuinely believe is the greatest ever is reaching wider and younger audiences and that when we hold our Soul Casino events as part of Vintage, we get dance floors packed with a diverse crowd.

It is technology and social media that has allowed Northern Soul to have its time in the wider public eye. You Tube is a wonderful tool to listen to the music, the brilliant Discogs makes it easy to track down the vinyl, and the internet has allowed communities to build and to bring enough people together to make events pay for themselves.

The purists who prefer things kept to themselves can moan all they like, but I love the fact soul music, the soundtrack of my life, is there for everyone to enjoy and I can go out dancing with people of all ages, some who are on the same voyage of discovery as Gerardine and I were 40 years ago.

– Wayne Hemingway

Battersea

The Evening Standard have covered the news that the population of London is about to surpass its 1939 peak and there is a lot discussion going around about London being full and “overheated”. The ES asked me for some quick thoughts. This is what I wrote…

Gerardine my now-wife and I came to London from Lancashire when we were still teenagers in 1980. We took a stall on Camden Market for £6 a day, one in Kensington Market for £12 a week and soon after leased a shop in Neal Street for £60 a week. We could buy a 3 bed house two years later for £22,000 at a time when an average house cost a little over three times the average salary. It was possible to work towards a goal without having to borrow large amounts of money or rely on parental help. The chance for two wide eyed 18 year olds from Lancashire to come to these wonderful bright lights do the same today has been stripped away. Our daughters tells us how many of their friends with partners are leaving London with a heavy heart, or considering leaving. It’s all about accommodation, the difficulty in the capital of fulfilling the natural human instinct to build a nest.

What are the solutions? One part of the jigsaw is more institutional build-to-rent of the kind I worked on with Get Living London in the Olympic Village after the Games, with a social housing element and a non-social element. Somehow society needs to find a way to secure a return on investment on institutional rental properties to bring this type of tenure up to the level that exists in Germany. People will always want to own, but renting shouldn’t be such an inferior option.

There’s also a locational aspect. We’ve had office space in Wembley since 1980. It’s only 18 minutes and 2 stops from the West End by the Metropolitan Line but it’s hardly moved on in 30 years. There are streets of inter war housing that could actually benefit from intelligent densification, sprawling, single storey industrial estates with underutilised space to develop. What is being built at the moment is, on the whole, bog-standard, pack-‘em-in sardines developments lacking in vision and potentially damaging in terms of attracting a community who will help to give the place “soul”.

It’s a myth that London is full up and “overheated” – between Wembley, Neasden, Harlesden and Harrow, or equivalent areas in other parts of the capital, there are lots of places that scream “opportunity”. I abhor as much as anyone the idea of overseas investors buying up property on the Battersea Power Station site and the like and leaving it empty, but moan all we like, we have to recognise that the problem is not going to be solved right now; far better to be positive and take what action we can to improve the housing situation. Force developers to do all schemes on an open book basis; if profits are high, make it a requirement for the amount of social housing to increase. Split large developments between a numbers of developers, as in continental Europe, helping promote competition. Rather than housebuilders being primarily concerned about making money for shareholders, we could legislate to ensure a key priority of theirs is to serve society by developing better and more affordable housing.

– Wayne Hemingway